Tom Mabe deals with his hang ups

Robert Loy, November 2000

Tom Mabe hates telemarketers. Well, of course he hates telemarketers. He's a decent God-fearing American, and all decent God-fearing Americans hate telemarketers.

But instead of just meekly mumbling "I'm not interested" and hoping the dialing desperadoes will let us off the hook (so to speak), Mabe does something about it.

On his two CDs, "Revenge on the Telemarketers, Round One" and the recently released "Round Two," both released this year on Virgin, Mabe drives them as crazy as they drive us. He freaks them out by telling them he's under house arrest and begging them to bring him some beer. He grosses them out by telling the carpet-cleaning salespeople that he needs to get blood out of his rug -- a lot of blood. He's even been known to get telemarketers' home phone numbers and fire them himself.

Mabe did not set out to be the standard-bearer in the war against annoying telemarketers. A musician by trade, Mabe was making a comfortable living writing jingles for the likes of Arby's, McDonalds, KFC, Volvo, Mercedes and Kroger grocery stores.

Since he was working out of his home in Louisville, Kentucky -- a long way from the advertising capital of the world -- much of his business was necessarily conducted by phone.

"More and more of the calls I got were not from clients, the people I wanted to hear from," Mabe explains, "but telemarketers trying to sell me stuff I didn't need."

Eventually he had enough, and he began to fight back. With the ad-libbing ability of Robin Williams and an endless supply of vitriolic wit.

Calls where Mabe tells the funeral plot salesman that he was considering suicide and waiting on a sign from God and the one where he couldn't talk to somebody soliciting for the sheriff's department because he had his hands full building a pipe bomb, were recorded on his $37 home answering machine and passed around to his friends.

Eventually, one of the tapes landed on the desk of Virgin Records president Scott Hendricks, and he offered Mabe a recording contract.

Now, he's making the rounds of the morning radio shows and traveling the country in his "Revenge Mobile" a red Volkswagen Beetle modified to look like a giant telephone.

"It's completely operable," Mabe says in a recent telephone interview. "I take it to Wal-Mart; it's my car; it's what I drive. Yep, 33 years old, driving a telephone. You know I've hit the big-time. It's in the garage right now. I've got a bumper sticker that says "My other car is a fax machine."

As you can see, Mabe uses a lot of humor in his anti-telemarketer campaign, but he's very serious about what he does.

"So many of these calls are nothing but scams," says Mabe. "Very clever scams. Like when people call for the fire department or the police department. Those departments aren't getting that money. The telemarketers make a deal with them to collect money in their name, but only 8 to 12 percent of the money they collect will actually go to the organization. So they do this spiel like 'Well, Mrs. Miller, we've always been there for you in the past. We just wanted to remind you with the holidays coming up be sure to keep all your doors locked, don't talk to strangers. And we hope that you'll support us so that we can continue to be there for you.'

"So, she's thinking if she doesn't give money nobody's going to respond if she's being robbed or her house is on fire. That's blackmail. And that's exactly how they operate."

He especially despises the ones that prey on senior citizens.

"They are ruthless people. They'll befriend an older person, call them several times a week. And then spring the trap and go 'Oh, I've got this deal you can't pass up.' And just because it's a friendly voice doesn't mean it's a friend. My mom has deadbolt locks, motion sensor lights, but how people can call out of the blue and obtain her checking account number I have no idea. Oh, the girl sounded so nice. They're trained to steal over the phone. They won't take no for an answer."

"The FBI estimates that there are 12,000 of these illegal scams out there every day, bilking seniors out of millions of dollars."

Now you understand why Mabe compares telemarketers to drug dealers and Mafia hitmen. And it's not only because they all excuse their actions by saying "I'm just doing my job." Does he ever worry that he might end up in concrete shoes in a lake outside some Florida timeshare condo?

"I've gotten threats. I've gotten death threats actually. Had to get the FBI involved on that one."

So what should people who are not as quick and as vicious as Mabe do to fight back against telemarketers.

"Tell them to put you on their do-not-call list," says Mabe. "It works to some extent. Though the do-not-call list does not work with charities. And charities are the big scams. But it's the only thing that does work. It's the one thing you have to say. If you hang up on them, your name goes right back into the computer and their predictive dialer, and they'll call you a week later.

"And quit signing up for everything. People see where they can win a free Ford Explorer or whatever. One Ford Explorer for the whole country. What they're doing is building a database and they sell these names and demographic info to list brokers. They actually make more money selling your name than they do from whatever they get directly out of you. They can sell your name and number a thousand times. Say you bought furniture; they'll sell your name to people who want to sell extended warranties and stuff. And the people you buy your caller ID from they sell your name too. It's like giving your lunch money to the school bully so he won't beat you up."

They can also join Mabe's grass roots organization P.E.S.T.

"That's People's Efforts to Stop Telemarketers," explains Mabe. "I know we're not going to stop them, but what I hope to do is put a dent in 'em. One of the things we're doing is in January we're sponsoring National Hang-Up Week."

"I'm going to go on tons of radio shows to get out the message 'hey, this week when they call, just hang up on them.' Because they make hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, and this would really send a strong message to the telemarketing industry."

All of which puts Mabe in an interesting position. As he's gotten more well-known, he's about to get so big that telemarketers will know and fear the name Mabe and not call him anymore?

"The next record's going to be under another name. I went to the State Fair recently and signed up for a bunch of stuff under a different name."

But even if he does topple the telemarketing Mafia, there are plenty of things that arouse the Mabe ire.

"We're working on a television pilot. It's called Mabe in the USA. And it's just me going around getting some revenge. It's comic with a cause. 14 pilots were arrested about a month ago. 8 out 10 pilots in the US have admitted to being under the influence within 8 hours before they fly. So, I went to the airport dressed like a pilot and got drunk at the airport bar. Another time I went to a car lot. You know how pushy they are, test drive it, take it home, show your wife. They want you to get emotionally attached to the car. So I went to a place with the hidden camera in my glasses. I take the car out, bring it back two hours later. I've got a pizza delivery sign on top of the car, and I'm dressed up like a pizza delivery boy. And I go 'I'm still not convinced. I want to drive it some more. How about Thursday night from 6 to 10.' And they just went off."

Tom Mabe is living proof of Mark Twain's words: Power, money, supplication, persecution -- these can lift at a colossal humbug -- push it a little -- weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.



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